Factors influencing the pathways in response to complaints

Sophie Yahui Hsieh (Ming‐Chuan University, Taoyuan, Taiwan)

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Publication date: 23 March 2010



The purpose of this paper is to explore hospital staff response to patient complaints and the factors influencing the response pathway.


The paper uses an exploratory study in a large Taiwanese hospital purposefully chosen as a case study site. The critical incident technique (CIT) is implemented, using a questionnaire along with non‐participant observations in which the results have been triangulated. A total of 59 cases were collected.


The study found when facing “humaneness” complaints, hospital staff attempted to investigate the event and then explain the facts to the complainant or empathise with him/her and then refer the problem to the relevant unit. In response to complaints combining “communication” and “care/treatment and humaneness”, staff tended to investigate the event's details and then directly explain them to the complainant. When complaints involved “care/treatment”, staff tended to empathise with the complainant, investigate the facts and explain them to the complainant. Additionally, the organisational response to complaints was influenced by who made complaints; its type, severity, complaining method and patient status.

Research limitations/implications

The literature revealed that the case study is the most common organisational study method. However, this approach is criticised for not offering findings that can be generalised.

Practical implications

Complaint nature is the major factor influencing the response pathway. If healthcare managers intend to reduce complaint rates then they need to carefully classify the complaint's nature. Different complaints have different handling procedures and guidelines to help managers resolve complaints in the first place.


There are extensive studies focusing on investigating complaints and their resolution. These studies tend not to demonstrate various means of handling patient complaints. Neither do they describe how different complaints might lead to different outcomes. Therefore, this paper explores hospital staff response to patient complaints and the factors influencing the pathways in response to complaints.



Yahui Hsieh, S. (2010), "Factors influencing the pathways in response to complaints", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 301-311. https://doi.org/10.1108/09526861011029361

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